Bad livestock practices by a single farmer can cause heavy losses to others at both the local and international trade level.
On the larger scale, poor farming practices among the majority of farmers in Kenya have excluded the country from trading in livestock and its products in the lucrative markets of Europe and some Middle East countries.
A majority of livestock farmers in the country never voluntarily vaccinate their animals or take conscious programmed measures to keep records and control diseases. Our farmers have mainly stuck to traditional production systems, which have no place in modern food safety and the international livestock and livestock products trade.
I do not talk for the government, and I know the government has its failures in modernising the livestock industry. However, before pointing a finger at the government, farmers need to remember the other four fingers are pointing back at themselves.
Lack of sustained disease control programmes
Before expounding on the case that motivated this article, let me first broadly analyse livestock farming in the country. The majority of our food animals comprising beef cattle, sheep and goats are raised in the pastoral areas and there are no sustained disease control programmes such as scheduled deworming, external parasite control and vaccination against common diseases.
Dairy, poultry and pig farming is done in the high rainfall areas mainly on smallholder farms of a few animals each. Again, there is lack of diligent disease management programmes. Further, the bulk of animal health services in the country are provided by private practitioners being veterinary doctors and veterinary paraprofessionals.
It is, therefore, evident that excellence and profitability in livestock farming can best be guided by the farmers and private veterinary service providers because they are the key players in the industry, majority stakeholders and the main economic beneficiaries of the sector.
Let us now look at how one farmer with bad practices frustrates the good efforts of all the farmers in her area and sometimes even the whole country.
Two weeks ago, a farmer from Murang’a told me he wanted assistance to export 15 breeding pigs to a neighbouring country. He had an import permit for the animals and he wanted me to advise on how to get them to destination.
“You see doctor, these people have put very many conditions on the import permit that I do not understand and the buyer says I have to meet all of them,” Kimani concluded.
I reviewed the farmer’s import permit and found it had the standard request as set out by the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE) and adopted by the importing country. The conditions concerned the national veterinary administration under the Director of Veterinary Services of Kenya (DVS), the exporting farmer, the importing farmer and the general area around the exporting farm.
The DVS was required to give verifiable assurance that the farm exercised good farming practices and that the individual animals being exported and the herd they came from were free of signs of diseases specified by the OIE.
Further, the DVS was required to give laboratory evidence that the individual pigs in the export group and the entire herd were free of a breeding disease called brucellosis.
Finally, the DVS was to confirm that within a radius of 20km of the exporting farm, the area was free of African swine fever and foot and mouth disease.
I assured the farmer the conditions given were standard and would be met if, in fact, he and the farmers in his area were free of diseases both at the individual farm and community levels.
Overcoming diseases and trade restrictions
He was surprised and he asked me what the other farmers had to do with his farm. He said he had put in a lot of effort to keep his farm disease-free with a view to selling his animals as widely as possible to evade the problem of local market saturation that leads to unprofitable prices.
Unfortunately for the farmer, though there are rewards in individual efforts, diseases and trade restrictions are only overcome by communal efforts. I told Kimani the best approach was for me to review the available information on the disease status in his area within the radius of 20km, the county and the country. I would also consult with the DVS at the county and national levels to advise him if he should proceed with the individual animal testing.
My consultations indicated the disease situation was favourable to the export of the pigs and we proceeded to test the export group as well as assess the history and health of the whole herd. We collected blood for testing with a team from the National Veterinary Laboratories.
The management of the farm was impressive. It had very good record-keeping and farm hygiene. The owner knew almost all his 80 pigs by family groups and they had ear tag identification.
My health examination of the pigs showed the animals were fit to travel. However, they needed to be treated for worms and external parasites not more than 10 days before shipment. I agreed with Kimani his private animal health service provider would do the treatment within the next three days.
After one week, the results from the lab showed the animals and the herd were free of brucellosis. Finally, the area government veterinary officer visited the farm, examined the animals and issued a health certificate confirming that all the requirements of the import permit had been fulfilled.
With the health certificate, the laboratory results and the import permit, I applied for an export permit from the DVS. Kimani was excited because this was his first export and he had now learnt the export process. He also said he had come to appreciate the need for farmers in his area to work together to combat livestock diseases for the common good.